I never thought I’d miss you
Half as much as I do…
It must be love. (Madness)
Far up over the North Atlantic, high above the ghosts of naval battles mourned, forgotten. Very night. A mother and her mother sleep despite the turbulence that keeps me sober despite drinking and hard awake despite airline torpor. There is no COMSAT, no SKYNET, no TELINK available to me here, supersized, abandoned and crushed into 24F, the very guts of coach. There are only the eyes of my three year old, also wired awake, who begrudges me these few minutes of precious battery life. I took the machine away from him halfway through Mary Poppins. The karma’s all against me now.
“Time to sleep kiddo. Madrid in a few hours. We’re laying over. Charge it up then, but sleepysleep now.”
“Daddy, what letter does the Chimchiminey start with?”
It must be said that the bathtub in room 8205 of the Casablanca Hotel is a source of disappointment to me. It’s simply too small. If I lay down in it I become a vacuum against its sides, some pinkly spam product sealed against the filthy bottom. The water just sits there on top of me, apathetic at best, disapproving. After 24 hours on various types of The Road, I wanted to soak while the other slept, but then you don’t come to the Canary Islands in December to spend hours with Zhivago in the steam room.
Put out, I beat the mule in me instead and hike up the long hill to where mum and dad live in a small apartment building with a pool on the roof and a thousand German families or what’s left of the roots of them, their kids back in the world and that peculiar post-war generation of Heidis and Jurgens adrift here, together with the English in this Euroflorida (Fleuroda?), which is all too tidily said, but they are the roots and these are their roots.
It’s quiet and we’re rejuvenating for night, but holy fuck if a cigarette wouldn’t work well right now. Out on this balcony and with nothing but vodka and warm orange juice for company. All’s well with the folks and with friendly Puerto de la Cruz also, although they mentioned how as last week a get-fit type was out running on the hilly pavements, getting the miles into his legs, sports pack on his back, got stopped by a gang who demanded he give them the contents of said pack, but when they realized there were only rocks in the thing, added to burden his training, they beat him to death with his own damn bricks. Bus fares are up again too.
Slept with seven feet of body in a five foot bed. Dreams of hashish, likely prompted by the small fires burning in the streets around Old Town last night as we walked back to the Casablanca (don’t forget the Canaries are far closer to Morocco thanMadrid, sixty miles by boat is all). There were stray dogs and roosters squawking loud, frayed ropes for their voices, cigars and white whiskey. Spray painted clouds sitting low on the hills.
This place is as if one imagines mainland Spainhaving had a violent affair with Chiapas a few hundred years back with Puerto getting to be the abandoned bastard child. Motor scooters play the street like a pintable. Political slogans in badly painted 3D, red and black, scar the adobe of a high church wall. There are steel gates with razor wire, and outside grandmothers of grandmothers selling badly printed lottery tickets, while insistent young boys, pretending to be their older brothers, try to pull you into each joint you pass, irrespective of their trade or its relevancy to your needs. Needs and wants and the catering thereto; this is what turns the turbines in the world’s cheaper tourist towns.
Only ever eat avocado and prawns at the Botanico Hotel or never do. The combination of climate and choice provides the Canaries with avocados that are firm to the taste like a just met and wholly willing, expectant, nipple, yet soon soft and melting like a teenage boy’s lie when confronted by an angry friend of his brother-in-law who didn’t much appreciate being shown up around the pool table by some crass remark that even now sees the 15 year old me backed up between the filthy old sink (employees wash their hands) and a broken johnny machine essentially nodding and begging and trying to protect my balls, badly scared.
Those are the avocados the one world-class hotel on the island gets, but in a time-honored business practice they don’t only want to prosper at their rarified commercial purpose, but also long (read require) that their lesser and immediately geographical competitors suffer poor produce which serves only to improve their singular establishment by comparison. Or so it’s said.
Therefore, and if you have not yet eaten at the Botanico, rush forth to the dozens of local tapas bars and carts and booths here in Puerto that will immediately make you recalibrate after getting by for so long on the toasted buds of monochrome. However, if you died and went straight to heaven out of the gustatory gate, resign yourself to the simple fact that you will only ever eat this dish in the here and now and here.
I had the avocado and prawns in the Quadra tonight, one of the best tapas places in town. I dug through the secret sauce of ketchup, mayo and Lea & Perrins, found two prawns with a texture, largely, of clean yet frayed shirt collar (chilled) and then gagged on the filler. It was then the kid buzzed (flipped with force like a pro-Frisbee college Senior who just got kicked out and is tossing one mad with Oddjob-style at the founder’s statue) a heavy white bone-china bread plate at the diminishing esophagus of my weakening scale-skinned darling father. Hit him like Joe Frazier.
We got out of there. Left a 100 euro note fluttering to the table and pushed that unsuitable stroller with matching child all the way up the face of the fucking hill in penance, but -after that, the night got no better: Did I mention we lost Rabbitey today as well, as though to learn what expensive really is?
Thought for any passing minute: It gets easier in proportion to how much harder it becomes.
Naptime. The sacred silence that begins in screaming. My wife sleeps with our three year old. It is holy work. Sacrifice. She has patience as though Job, while to me it is a shitty loathsome job, this sudden barking that erupts from both heads of the parent-child dog. Not in anger, but pled supplication.
Call: PLEASE read it to me again again AGAIN!
Response: PLEASE lie down lie down lie DOWN!
Repeat to fade.
In the final silence, amongst the exhausted chickens (the roosters having fucked themselves into a stupor), I’m reading Puttnam’s ‘The Undeclared War’ and he reminds us of a fine old proverb (I think after many years of writing and just a few of fathering, it applies to both in equal measure):
If we continue down the path we appear to have chosen the danger exists that we will end up exactly where we seem to be heading.
As she said to me last night (after we’d stood before the deep violet sea, throwing itself against the black sand and rock, and as we blessed these few short minutes after a typical Canarian dinner, these minutes where we can stand, her back against me, my arms encircling her, my hands on her bare shoulders, this moment in time gifted us by Oma distracting the boy along the boardwalk with a pony ride -mechanical, one euro): You may pick the vortex, if you’re very lucky, but after that you can only ride it out.
For everything that’s been and all that’s still to come, I made a good choice with this woman.
Charlie and Frank, his English cousins of a similar size have arrived to entertain the boy. They live on the Mile End Roadin East London and while the Mile End Road isn’t as reprobate as it once was they are a product of the language school that flattens vowels and drops Hs. Received Cockney. `e don’t `alf `ate `er.
I look at our little American and wonder what I’m doing to him in both crimes and wonders by living on the east coast of the US. He knows something of this geography business already, delighting in telling all that “in America we say cassel but in England daddy says carrrrsell.” The boys of course (following an antsy lunch of hamburgers eaten outside at the Plaza Charco pursued by street-smart pigeons) play fast and flat-out on the huge pirate ship that features all the slides and swings and things that little pirates love so. I may kill you in the morning.
They don’t care much where they’ve come from, they’re just happy that as atoms amongst the cosmos they happen to be connected together by blood or marriage and have been written down in the book of us and this family forever.
Autorenfilm (author’s film)
The editor’s clock is a pistol
Bullets counted second by second
Or a heavy walking stick
Crossing a white marble floor
Where you are the marble
And each step and second
Ricochets against the silence
Of your broken spine
Handjob for the holidays
Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
giving all your gloves to just one man.
People always want to know the truth. How ideas come about. How much any story is autobiographical or at least loosely based on events or people in the author’s real life.
Handjob for the holidays was a family movie starring John Candy who never died but instead grew thin and old, his generation’s Jimmy Stewart. It’s certainly my most commercial script and as a result people often ask me if some aspects of the what’s now known as the MCM happened to me and my wife, and was it as uplifting for us as it is for the characters in the movie.
I can only answer yes and no. Did Rosa Parks know on that fateful day that she was to become a universal symbol, or was youngRosa just sick and tired and what the hell’s up with this seating thing? Did I know what I know now? Do any of us? Should we? Can we? It’s never easy being the lightning rod of a touchstone and watchword for the big freedoms.
The other matter is a technical one, the husband and wife in my movie are both one-handed and had in fact first met at a social club for one-handed people. A plot device to be sure, but plausible I think. This was not the case with my wife and I who met in a `thirty-something’ chatroom over the internet when she was in her middle twenties and I’d just turned forty-six, as is often the way of things.
There certainly was a handjob involved, an almost perfunctory one and that of course is the philosophical thrust of the movie. We mustn’t only wait until Christmas to appreciate the smaller pleasures that life may bestow early one morning when your mother-in-law is mostly asleep in the bedroom next door and your three year old did wake you both up by singing a strangulated chorus of something unintelligible but then (bless him) fell back to sleep, but any overt noise or bed-tumbling will surely bring him fully back awake. She turns to you and slowly traces your jaw-line with her fingers. You suck down hard on her index finger and stare at her eyes in the half-light. She purses her lips around your knuckle into a silent and silencing `Shhh‘ and then, with her other hand, delivers (and it is a delivery) a handjob of such precision and experience, that even her complete mastery of you is sexy.
This is someone who is has sang the aria a thousand times before and can reduce its runtime from thirty minutes to three with just the slightest co-operation. You are still sucking her finger. 180 seconds later you shudder in orgasm, and then your son breathes that breath you recognize as the one that he makes as his eyes come open. Soon he’ll poke his head above the parapet of the portacrib wanting milk. The sheets are damp in places, swimmers floundering. No little brother for him today.
A few minutes later, still subsiding, you are in the shower, considering dexterity, thrilled she has two hands, and it’s then, and all at once, I had the idea for the movie.
They say there are no good deaths, that there may be some called that by Presidents or preachers, but for the most of us death is unwanted and unwelcome, at best some imaginary release. All of this is well and good in general philosophical thinking, but when forced to consider this next moment as your last, thought (after surviving) can turn to the realization that that day, be it in this week or some distant other, is coming to collide with you without possibility of evasion.
I began having some feeling of torque in parts of my torso, odd moments of ache in my shoulder, a second of tingling in my forearm. None of these moments considered in isolation warrant much examination, but in collection and at a time in my life where I acquired 20 to 30 pounds of unwanted weight, given up smoking a few years back, but still drink with a commitment to both quantity and quality, such small signs leach doubt into my usual obliviousness.
As a dramatist I have projected the movie of my family all here gathered from all four corners to mark my parents’ 50th anniversary and like the best man stealing the bride I tumble forward, toast unspoken, glass in hand, to ensure the occasion’s memorability.
Yes, I know. Precautions must be taken and guidance sought. You know how it is with boys; so slow to ask for directions. But for all of that, the details of disease and the rarity of the good death, I have been thinking about things that one’s doing when the hammer hits (be it heart attack on the plane ride home or dead in bed at a hundred and ten). I’m trying to reap the benefit of hindsight in the beforehand is all.
I was painting the back door, the door that leads from our kitchen to the yard. Inhaling old green lead dust. Hands and knees in cold. Enjoying seeing something move from eyesore to apple. Simple brushwork back and forth, but not a bad place to keel over, if a little painty. I felt light-headed (the fumes?), began regulating my breath. Bargained in my head with Doctor Kubler-Ross to be allowed to finish the door. Perhaps leave a love note or signature in the `Saffron wheat’ latex topcoat.
Saffron fucking wheat.
“Yeah, `e was painting that door weren’t `e. A good painter `e was. Good dad. A joke and a kind word for everyone. Loved that saffron wheat `e did, bless `im.”
I bargained some more not to die on the plane, there’s something ignominious to my mind, causing a plane to be diverted, all that fuss and finger-pointing. But we got here, obviously, and I walked up just now to the wonderful Kondetori to buy chocolate Florentines for tea. And it is up. Puerto is all about the constancy of hills. I was listening to `La Cienega Just Smiled’ (Ryan Adams) with its rolling piano and hearstrung acoustic guitaring. Thrilling loss. Uplifting melancholy. A burst heart in pursuit of uphill chocolate on an 80 degree afternoon. Perfect. I would forever be beloved and family lore is surely worth something? The moment passes.
To Loro Parque en famille and listening to Jesus’ blood never failed me yet (Gavin Briars) on the iThing as the little yellow train snakes through town towards Punta Brava. I never allow myself to listen to this song when in the bag for fear of suicide. Even sober, on a sunny day, amongst beauty, I have to turn from the group and appear to be paying stern consideration to the horizon. Just this side of a small street from weeping.
Morning after the bottle of vodka before. It has turned cooler with rain overnight there’s a capping of snow on Teide. The women are busy painting and brushing, interior decorators of their own selves. They have that delicious (to them) prospect of a childfree morning shopping the town to death.
The boy in question, in the persona of a very young Tarzan, is hurling boulders at malevolent raccoons and leaping stone-faced aardvarks in a single bound. God bless Edgar Rice Burroughs and whoever history adjudges to be the patron saint of video games.
The ParrotPark, which in reality is a well-designed, decent-sized, European zoo, was very good. Dolphins were well schooled, the shark tunnel at the aquarium was spooky, wet, and darkly fabulous. The rotatingly huge penguin tundra was the best I’ve seen, and the sea-lion show was athleticism and theater in the same tight glove. The most impressive thing I saw however was a pair of Hyacynth Macaws, whose plumage was of a single burning dark blue. They moved not and spoke not, but were literally a vision and proof of color’s great primary power.
Mostly a good day, interspersed with screaming. A late dinner at the Saltimbucca. Spanish pizza topped with cuttlefish and octopus.
It rains unabated. Slow morning without use of a computer. Mouse died, or was presumed to have died, but 20 reboots later mouse walked back in from vacation and I realize that no internet is one thing, no laptop entirely another. Now the boy plays with a coloring puzzle and I sit on this damp balcony drinking lemon tea for the want of milk, watching the volcano slowly clear, and then, from the mist, there materializes a mother and an Oma, loaded down beneath the shopping bags of their addiction. Soon to be off-duty, I load up a Pixies mix, get ready to go walking through the hills under a tropical island rain.
San Marcos. A small fishing village. Black sand. Lunch for 30 at a local place. Perfect venue to celebrate 50 years of marriage to the very day. The little boys, quite safe and warmly tolerated by the Spanish, run quiet riot here and there. We are eating fresh anchovies (bocarones), delicious, an explosion of taste as different to those thrown back from a pizza’s top as egg whites to elephants. It’s just then that the boy comes with a mouthful of blood spilling out across his mother’s white blouse as she reaches for him, and then another mouthful and then gagging on blood and spuming it forward across the dinner table like chum on the deck of some textile yacht.
He’d fallen hard, literally face first, smashed his two front teeth back horizontal from vertical. Wailing amongst the blood, my own sister, mother of many, got her hand in his mouth and pulled the teeth down again and then up and held for a few seconds through the screaming. A practice later confirmed by a pediatric dentist as proper if done properly. He was out asleep, in shock, within half an hour, and that, despite all the other moments from there back to here, was the end of the affair.